Remembering the Holocaust

Remembering the Holocaust through Education and Steadfast Determination

Rabbi Julius Berman
Julius Berman

Julius Berman, longtime YU Board of Trustees member and president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, discusses new data revealing alarming gaps in Holocaust knowledge and the key questions we need to consider to educate the next generation.

As we approach International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we need to ensure that the world at large continues to appreciate the tremendous toll—not just in lives, but in so much more—of this dark period. With that spirit in mind, earlier this week, the Azrieli Foundation and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (known as the Claims Conference) jointly released a comprehensive Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey of adults in Canada. The survey assessed participants’ understanding of Holocaust facts and their attitudes toward Holocaust education.

The data revealed a shocking lack of knowledge about the Holocaust, especially among adults 18 to 34 years of age (referred to in the study as “millennials”). More than 50 percent of Canadian millennials could not identify the name of a concentration camp or a single ghetto.

These findings reaffirmed the shocking results found in a U.S. study funded by the Claims Conference just last year, which revealed a significant lack of Holocaust knowledge in the United States and that a majority of Americans (58 percent) believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.

Even more concerning was a failure to appreciate the tremendous impact of the Holocaust. In the U.S. study, 42 percent of respondents were either unsure or believed 100,000 or fewer people died in the Holocaust, while in the Canadian survey, nearly one quarter of millennials hadn’t heard of or weren’t even sure if they had heard of the Holocaust at all.

In a statement about the Canadian results, Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation and also a member of YU’s Board of Trustees, reflected that “clearly there are gaps in our education system that must be filled, because as it stands now, as a society, we are not preparing the next generation to learn from the past.”

YU News sat down with Julius Berman, a chief architect of these surveys, to get his reaction and thoughts on how we should move forward. As a lifelong advocate for Holocaust survivors and Holocaust education, he shared his unique and rich perspective.

Here are some compelling insights from the conversation.

What is your reaction to these surveys?
It is clear that Holocaust education falls woefully short around the world. We need to redouble our efforts to train and educate the next generation through existing programs that we know are making a difference.

But we also need to push ourselves to think more broadly and creatively about how to effectively reach the next generation. This is our responsibility to the world and, more importantly, to the survivors who sacrificed so much.

Why is it so dangerous if the next generation doesn’t fully understand the Holocaust and its impact?
We’ve all heard the phrase, “never again.” That’s important and we should continue to say it. But you can’t say “never again” if you don’t even realize what happened. Global Holocaust education is essential to ensuring the atrocities of the past never happen again.

“You Can’t Say ‘Never Again’ If You Don’t Even Realize What Happened”

What are we currently doing in the way of Holocaust education?
At the Claims Conference, we have put tremendous resources toward teacher education. Our theory was simple: if you educate teachers, they are able to influence students year after year, maximizing impact. With that in mind, we fund institutes, seminars, master’s programs and much more to instill teachers with the skills and confidence to teach the complexities of the Holocaust. Over a three-year period, the Claims Conference provided training to teachers from 59 countries with an estimated long-term impact of 30 million students.

In recent years, we’ve adapted our approach to include new education vehicles for the younger generations. For instance, we’ve made a major investment in film, financially supporting promising filmmakers who want to tell stories of the Holocaust. We’ve helped fund around 100 films produced in more than 13 countries.

As a member of the Board of Trustees at Yeshiva University, I have seen firsthand the tremendous work that is being done on Holocaust education both on campus and for community events and exhibitions.

As you reflect on this data, where do we need to go from here to further close the education gap?
When we look at these surveys, it is easy to feel that we’re losing the battle. But there is room for optimism. In both surveys, an overwhelming number of respondents expressed support for continuing to teach the Holocaust.

As we move forward, we all need to consider how we can better engage the next generation through media and other channels. For our part at the Claims Conference, we will be looking at how we can further evolve our education programming and tools to widen our reach and impact. And we are at a point where a conversation on whether Holocaust education should be state mandated, as some states and countries have done successfully, is warranted.

But most of all, each one of us must commit to continuing to engage Holocaust survivors and their loved ones so that their stories are never forgotten.